Filamentary structures as the origin of blazar jet radio variability

Antonio Fuentes*, José L. Gómez*, José M. Martí, Manel Perucho, Guang Yao Zhao, Rocco Lico, Andrei P. Lobanov, Gabriele Bruni, Yuri Y. Kovalev, Andrew Chael, Kazunori Akiyama, Katherine L. Bouman, He Sun, Ilje Cho, Efthalia Traianou, Teresa Toscano, Rohan Dahale, Marianna Foschi, Leonid I. Gurvits, Svetlana JorstadJae Young Kim, Alan P. Marscher, Yosuke Mizuno, Eduardo Ros, Tuomas Savolainen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


Supermassive black holes at the centre of active galactic nuclei power some of the most luminous objects in the Universe. Typically, very-long-baseline interferometric observations of blazars have revealed only funnel-like morphologies with little information on the internal structure of the ejected plasma or have lacked the dynamic range to reconstruct the extended jet emission. Here we present microarcsecond-scale angular resolution images of the blazar 3C 279 obtained at 22 GHz with the space very-long-baseline interferometry mission RadioAstron, which allowed us to resolve the jet transversely and reveal several filaments produced by plasma instabilities in a kinetically dominated flow. The polarimetric properties derived from our high-angular-resolution and broad-dynamic-range images are consistent with the presence of a helical magnetic field threaded to the jet. We infer a clockwise rotation as seen in the direction of flow motion with an intrinsic helix pitch angle of ~45° and a Lorentz factor of ~13 at the time of observation. We also propose a model to explain blazar jet radio variability in which emission features travelling down the jet may manifest as a result of differential Doppler boosting within the filaments, as opposed to the standard shock-in-jet model. Characterizing such variability is particularly important given the relevance of blazar physics from cosmic particle acceleration to standard candles in cosmology.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1359-1367
Number of pages9
JournalNature Astronomy
Issue number11
Early online date2023
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2023
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


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